The blame for violent crime is constantly being placed on movies and video games. Especially each time there is a mass shooting, the unrelenting mission to blame media for violence in society roars up with new vigor, and the rest of us need to remind these crusaders of all the things wrong with their claims.
Most recently Seth Rogan’s movies were spotlighted as examples of Hollywood films that foment obsessive, unrealistic expectations for sex and lust in young people by portraying sex and having a wild lifestyle which in turn supposedly leads to men lashing out and going on murder sprees, such as the one that happened in Santa Barbara.
We have heard this sort of thing myriad times before. The web is full of such articles and comments. One article I found even tried identifying the arcade-style military shooting game Call of Duty as the cause of some teen suicides simply because they had played the popular game – even for people who had hung themselves, not even used guns.
I don’t even like Seth Rogan’s films and I barely ever play video games, but I can tell when they are being unfairly targeted. In fact, the correlation between violence and media directly contradict what should be expected if movies and games caused greater violence.
According to Pew research, the rate of firearm homicide in the United States has been dropping overall for two decades. And we can specifically look at what effect the much-demonized Call of Duty might have had: since Call of Duty really surged in popularity and became a household name in 2007 with the release of Call of Duty 4, firearm violence has been experiencing a steady period of decline. This isn’t to say that playing video games is the cause of that decline, but it shows, contrary to the belief of many people, that violence has not been rising as our culture has become increasingly saturated with violent movies and military-based video games.
So in cases of mass murders and shooting sprees, we need to look at what factors are most unique to the array of individuals who commit these strange crimes.
Instead though, it seems that people just want to identify objects and activities which they personally do not like and assume those things are to blame. But without actual evidence or logical connections to back up those views, such claims are nothing but irrational bias. And that is what these anti-media claims amount to. They cannot identify any hard evidence to support their positions, while other causes are easily identifiable – namely, mental illness or extreme political ideologies have been common factors.
Consider for example, that Jared Loughner wrote incoherent rants supporting conflicting ideas ranging from communism to restoring the gold standard;
A school counselor and psychiatrist for James Holmes had both notified authorities that he had mental issues and was dangerous before he went on his shooting spree;
Seung Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech massacre had a severe social anxiety disorder and in high school he was noted for “emotional disturbance” (and interestingly, according to an investigative report commissioned by the governor of Virginia, Cho played video games like Sonic the Hedgehog but no games with violence or war themes);
Anders Brevik, who killed 77 people in Norway, exalted extreme right-wing religious ideology and hated liberalism and immigration of Muslims;
Adam Lanza had a severe autism spectrum disorder and difficulty with normal social interactions, and his mother was trying to get him psychiatric treatment before he even indicated that he would be a killer;
And Elliot Rodger was angry that girls weren’t sexually interested in him and wrote a giant paper titled “My Twisted World”.
Those people all had severe problems that affected their attitudes and outlook on the world. One cannot logically argue that Sonic the Hedgehog lead to the Virginia Tech shooting, or that the Batman films are what made the difference between a harmless James Holmes and the one who tried to slaughter an entire crowd at a movie theater.
And in the most recent case of Elliot Rodgers, one cannot argue that Hollywood movies are what made him go on a violent rampage, as though if he didn’t watch movies like other people then he would have been a hormone-less delight who did not care at all that women weren’t attracted to him, and who would have never known that those women slept with men other than himself, and whose pride and emotional delusions would have ceased to exist.
It seems to me that perhaps with the exception of political radicals like Anders Brevik, if there was any impact from media and cultural attitudes on the actions of these other shooters then those factors must have been negligible and even eliminating such factors completely would not have averted the murders.
By listening to people slam accusations against movies and video games, one would think that before Hollywood’s movies or Call of Duty games started coming out, barely anyone committed acts of violence, rape, retribution, or did anything terrible out of frustration and feelings of inadequacy. We are lead to assume that the whole world was full of happy, peaceful, mentally stable individuals with no deluded or erratic people among them.
In reality however, everyone has a different mind and various influences on their attitudes that are far more powerful than movies and games; for example, mental disorders, political ideologies, extreme religious and cultural views, problems with personal relationships, and so on. And these factors seem to be the constant, recurring, central problems with each of these major criminals – not movies or video games which millions of other people watch and use every day without becoming deluded psychopaths.
And people need to be mindful not to mistakenly mix up cause and effect. Movies and video games are forms of entertainment which many people use to ‘escape’ their lives temporarily, so if a miserable person uses more of it, then the most likely link between the two is that they are playing games to have some fun, vent frustrations which derived from other sources and that aren’t going away, or because they wanted to simulate a planned actual shooting, not the other way around.
With millions of other people playing these exact same games and watching these same movies purely for fun, we have no reason to think that people are doing so because they have horrible depression or hatred, or that these forms of entertainment are making such things any worse in people who do.
So if anyone genuinely wants to understand the causes behind horrible mass shootings, they need to look at the real evidence and avoid fallacious reasoning. Anything you try to nail as the cause – be it movies, video games, or whatever else people want to accuse – should pass that test.